Blues Bytes


June 2016

John Long
Stand Your Ground
Delta Groove

John Long

About ten years ago, I was in a record store and happened upon a copy of a CD from John Long called Lost and Found. Although I’d never heard his music, I had read somewhere that back in the ’70s, Muddy Waters called him “the best young country blues artist playing today.” Listening to Lost and Found verified that Waters was onto something. It was an amazing release made up of original songs written by Long and his brother, Claude that sounded for all the world like long-lost pre-war tunes, not only in lyrical content but also based on Long’s guitar work and his seasoned vocals.

Long’s Delta Groove Music debut was well-received by music critics and fans alike,earning a BMA nomination for Acoustic Album of the Year. Ten years later, he has released his follow-up for Delta Groove, Stand Your Ground, and proves that the fire of the Blues still burns bright and hot within his soul. The new release offers 13 tracks with several Long originals blending perfectly and seamlessly with the covers. Though largely a solo effort, with Long playing guitar, harmonica, and keeping time on a vintage 1938 model Samsonite suitcase, he is backed on several tracks by Fred Kaplan on piano, Bill Stuve on bass, and Washington Rucker on drums.

Long’s original tunes, such as the haunting “Red Hawk,” “Wecome Mat,” “Things Can’t Be Down Always” and the loping title track sound like pieces of the earlier era, though written many years after the fact, and “No Flowers For Me” strikes a somber note on a more modern theme (Parkinson’s Disease). Long also explores the gospel side of the blues with the originals “Healin’ Touch” and “One Earth, Many Colors,” plus wonderful covers of Blind Willie Johnson’s “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole” and Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Precious Lord.” In the same vein, he also picks up the harmonica for a dazzling cover of Blind Willie McTell’s “Climbing High Mountains (Trying To Get Home).”

Homesick James Williamson served as a mentor and lifelong friend to Long, and the opener, “Baby Please Set a Date” is a loving homage to the late slide guitar master (with Long displaying his formidable slide guitar chops). Of the remaining tunes, “Mop, Bucket, and a Broom” is an amusing old-school toe-tapper, and “Suitcase Stomp” is a fun closer, with Long providing percussion on, you guessed it, a suitcase.

If you’re already a fan of country blues, you will have a difficult time moving Stand Your Ground off your playlist. If you’re not a country blues fan, you may become one after hearing Stand Your Ground. John Long is the real deal and is a genuine American music treasure.

--- Graham Clarke
Read Graham's blog

Born in St. Louis in 1950 to a mother who taught guitar to the locals, young John Long was totally immersed in the blues by the 1960s and playing professionally. Sounds like the usual blues story so far, but Long was more drawn to the blues of the 1920s and 30s than to the contemporary sounds of the day. Sure, he was digging Muddy and Wolf, but his heart was with Lonnie Johnson, Petie Wheatstraw, Lightnin’ Hopkins and others from the era. The die was set when he met Homesick James in early 1970 Chicago. Their bond was immediate. He called Homesick his adoptive father.

The opening piece of Stand Your Ground (Delta Groove) is Homesick’s classic "Baby, Please Set A Date." It’s one of only a few covers. The bulk of the 13 tunes herein are originals that sound every bit as period authentic as the covers. He sounds very much to these ears like Lighntin’ Hopkins, especially on his own "Things Can’t Be Down Always." The vocal approach, the guitar work. Is there blues resurrection? Long makes a case.

Willie Johnson’s "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole," Blind Willie McTell’s "Climbing High Mountains (Trying to Get Home)," Thomas Dorsey’s "Precious Lord Take My Hand," in addition to being beautifully performed remind of the intersection between the spiritual and the secular during those years.

The version of Mike Cronic’s "Mop, Bucket and A Broom" is the most enjoyable of the covers, but the original material is every bit as impressive. "Stand Your Ground" and "Healing Touch" are brand new classics. Accompanied by Fred Kaplan on piano on the opener and "One Earth, Many Colors," Bill Stuve on upright bass on a handful of songs, and Washington Rucker’s drums on a handful, John Long has one of the best albums of this young year. Fantastic recording!

--- Mark E. Gallo



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